Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
March 11, 2010
THE SHOW: “ Ring Round the Moon , ” a French satire, at Moonlight Stage Productions
Here’s your official “Invitation to the Castle,” which is the original title (“ L’Invitation du Château”) of this cynical confection, set in a winter garden on an enchanted spring evening. It’s a French social satire, and love, sex and scheming are in the air.
Written in 1947 by French dramatist Jean Anouilh, and adapted three years later by English dramatist Christopher Fry, the period piece just keeps coming back in style. It premiered on Broadway in 1950 and was revived in 1999. The most recent London production opened in 2008, and it was last seen locally in 2000 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
Now here it comes again, to Moonlight Stage Productions, making a delightfully ditsy, fast-paced appearance. The three act , two intermission, nearly three hour evening seems to dance by at warp speed.
Director Jason Heil , an accomplished actor who’s performed in more than a few wacky comedies himself, nails the tone, tenor and tempo of the piece, and makes it swirl by with all the frothy, cyanide-laced cynicism it’s due.
He’s assembled a wonderful cast, and they seem to be having a blast. At the center is comic chameleon Howard Bickle (the program also lists one Horace Bickle , Howard’s doppelganger), as the nasty-and-nice twin brothers, Hugo and Frederic. Frederic is the self-effacing, love-besotted nice-guy. Hugo is a wicked, amoral playboy who seems to be incapable of true emotion, though he’s cleverly adept at messing with other people’s lives. His amusement of the evening is breaking up his brother’s engagement to the snooty, snotty rich-girl, Diana (haughty Frances Anita Rivera), who’s in love with Hugo anyway, just settling for poor Frederic. Her father, a dyspeptic billionaire (engaging Jim Chovick ), who’ll buy her anything – or anyone – has a wild-eyed mistress ( Jessica John , outrageously over the top) who’s having an affair with the billionaire’s private secretary (Francis Gercke, hilarious).
Hugo’s Great Scheme for the evening is to hire a young, pretty dancer from the Paris Opera (definitely Not of Their Class) and transform her, like Pygmalion or Henry Higgins, into an upper-crust belle of a ball thrown by his supercilious, conniving, wheelchair-bound aunt, Madame Desmortes (wonderfully droll, jaded Jill Drexler ).
Isabelle, the Beautiful Young Thing (lovely, likable. L.A.-based Mary Bogh ) brings her loquacious, pretentious mother (chattering, nattering Annie Hinton , very amusing) and her ‘sponsor,’ the middle-aged Romainville (Danny Campbell, solid) who is instructed by Hugo to claim Isabelle as his niece, though he’d rather have her as mistress or wife. Turns out the loud, dowdy mother is an old friend of Madame’s companion, the spinster Capulet (dotty Veronica Murphy ), and they wind up spoiling the whole charade. Throw in an eternally upright but conspiratorial Butler ( Ralph Johnson , spot-on) and a few other scuttling servants, and you’ve got enough intrigue, mayhem and mistaken identity to satisfy even the most world-weary, supercilious aristocrat. Speaking of which, Madame undergoes a startling turnaround when she gets wind of the goings-on, and decides to engineer a few machinations of her own, which makes love, uncharacteristically for an Anouilh play, conquer all at the end. Ah, l’amour .
Make no mistake, this is a feather-light fluff-piece (laced with acid), that’s pure, mindless fun, and beautifully realized, at Moonlight, in the moonlight. Mike Buckley’s set and lighting are white lattice-work and draping wisteria, backed by a cloud-dappled sky that changes color as the evening wears on. Colleen Kollar Smith contributes comical choreography. Some of the costumes (Roslyn Lehman & Renetta Lloyd), like Madame’s outfits and Isabelle’s ball gown (with “petticoats as light as cobwebs”), are quite striking. Others look low-budget. But no matter. The effect is enchanting, as romance and conspiracy abound. Sometimes, even the ill-intended latter can result in the idealistic former. What fools these mortals be !
THE LOCATION: The Avo Theatre, 3030 Main St. , Vista . (760) 724-2110 ; www.moonlightstage.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $21-29. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., through March 21.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
Hyping the Hyphenate
THE SHOW: “self (the remix)” – a one-man, 26-character hip hop autobiography, Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company
Life is a mashup : A mixture of elements and experiences from multiple timeframes. In his quest for self-definition, self-expression and wholeness, Robert Farid Karimi , a performance artist and national slam-poetry champion, is trying to revisit and deconstruct the episodes of his existence. His solo show, “self (the remix),” which he’s presented around the country since 2003, is an American story, a fractured tale of hyphenated identity. The snippets of one life are underscored by a widely ranging musical soundscape, ranging from disco to hip hop to punk rock, kept perfectly in synch with the narrative by DJ D Double (aka Dave Dimaano ).
“We sample consciousness,” Karimi explains at the outset, jumping around tirelessly (and sweating profusely) in his red shirt, jeans and black sneakers. “The sound track of our lives is captured, mixed and remixed, like strings of energy.”
An unusual hybrid by birth – his mother is Guatemalan, his father Iranian – Karimi grew up in the Bay Area ( Union City , to be precise) at an unfortunate time. In 1979, when he was 8 years old, the country was clobbered by the Iran Hostage Crisis, a 444-day standoff in which 54 Americans were locked in the American Embassy in Iran ; the incident has been described as a crisis of “mutual incomprehension.” Though he was 12,000 miles away, Karimi was implicated – at least, the Iranian half of him was. “They think every Iranian is a terrorist,” he gripes. He was ridiculed, rejected or attacked wherever he was. At home, they called him a “turban-wearing burrito-eater.” When he went to Guatemala with his mother, they called him “gringo.”
“The problem with mixed-race people,” a character tells him (one of many he portrays in the fast-moving, 80-minute piece), “is you’re all so confused.” And so are the Americans they meet. “How exotic !, ” most say of Karimi’s heritage. Turns out the ‘exotic’ cultural mix didn’t work out so well; his parents divorced when he was 4.
The most intriguing character the charismatic Karima portrays, in addition to his parents – both of whom, amusingly, think he does a poor job of re-creating their immigrant accent – is a dope-smoking Chicano hipster who keeps telling him, “You’ve got to inhale before you exhale.” And in one of several audience participation moments, he enlists us all to do the same. What this wise, shamanic stoner ultimately tells him is to “get down with your Catholic-Muslim self.” And that’s what he’s aiming to do, embracing the intellectual rigor of his father’s culture and the dance-happy Guatemalan society of his mother’s.
“You have to have huevos ,” the street-philosopher tells him. And maybe that’s what it takes — to be a man, and to survive.
THE LOCATION: Mo’olelo at the 10th Avenue Theatre, Inc., 930 10th Ave. , downtown San Diego . ( 619) 342-7395 ; http://electrictemple.net
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $22-27. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through March 21.
THE BOTTOM LINE : Good Bet
Post-Show Discussion on Saturday, March 13 : “ Performing Iran” with Mahbod Seraji , author of “ Rooftops of Tehran , ” musician Farhad Bahrami , and the artists of self (the remix). Facilitated by Rebecca Romani.
The Hills are Alive… in La Jolla
THE SHOW: “The Sound of Music” – the 50th anniversary of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, at the J* Company Youth Theatre
“Cinderella” may be the next and final show in the J*Company’s Rodgers and Hammerstein season, but a Cinderella story is unfolding in their current show, “The Sound of Music.” Before the performance begins, artistic director Joey Landwehr introduces two young women of 17, who literally grew up with the J*Company. They both began performing at age 5, playing flowers together in “ Alice in Wonderland.” And now, after more than 20 productions each, Ali Viterbi, who stars in “Sound of Music” and recently played the lead in “The King and I,” is going off to start the next chapter of her life, at Yale University . And Danielle Smotrich , who plays the snooty Baroness Elsa Schrader, is heading to the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. A fairy tale ending, indeed.
Meanwhile, back in Austria , Viterbi is terrific as Maria, the “flibbertigibbet” postulant who tames the seven neglected von Trapp children, makes them into a singing sensation (true story) and snags their initially stand-offish father as well. Viterbi has a wonderfully warm, energetic presence and an excellent voice. Fourteen year-old Scott Peterson acquits himself very well as Capt. von Trapp. The von Trapp kids are all adorable – and talented. Maddie Houts is especially notable as Liesl , excellent in her coquettish scenes, including a flirtatious dance number, with Rolf, the budding Hitler Youth (Zachary Herzog). Naomi McPherson is credible and vocally strong as the Mother Abbess, and Adam Burnier is aptly frightening as the SS man, Herr Zeller. But quite oddly, one of the Nazis is played for moustache-twirling humor, à la “ Springtime for Hitler,” and that doesn’t belong here at all.
Director Landwehr had a field-day with the multitudinous nuns, giving them humorous names like Sister Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Sister Dominque-Nique-Nique (the tipsy Blue Nun); Sister Bertrille (who fairly flies across the stage); and of course, Sisters Mary Peter, Mary Paul and Mary Mary . Presumably because the production is housed in a Jewish Community Center, there are no crosses on the nuns – and no swastikas on the Nazis, which significantly diminishes the menacing power of their appearance. Seems like a lot more whitewashing than necessary (the J* Company seemed to have less trouble performing “ Brundibar ” last year, an opera set in a concentration camp).
Well, anyway, the production makes wonderful use of the wide, high stage (many set-pieces drift down from the fly-space), and the 23-piece orchestra, under the astute direction of Tim McKnight, sounds robust and full. The dancing was created by skilled modern dance choreographer Deven P. Brawley. Amazingly, the 92 cast members, ranging in age from 7 to 17, never seem crowded or befuddled, and they handle themselves impressively well. That alone is a triumph.
THE LOCATION: Lawrence Family JCC., 4126 Executive Drive , La Jolla . ( 858) 362-1348 ; http://sdcjc.lfjcc.org/jc/
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $17. Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 1:00 and 4:30 p.m., Thursday 3/18 at 7 p.m., school performance Friday 3/12 at 10 a.m., through March 21.
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Globe-al Change: The Old Globe has announced that, due to “unforeseen conflicts,” Roger Rees will not be presenting “What You Will” this season. But instead, Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh will bring us her wonderful, award-winning portrayal of Golda Meir, “Golda’s Balcony,” written by William Gibson. The longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history, “Golda’s Balcony” will run 4/28-5/30 in the Old Globe Theatre.
… The chair’s in Town !: Rocco Landesman , the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), is making San Diego the first California stop on his national tour promoting the NEA’s “Art Works” initiative. A former Broadway theater producer, Landesman is here to support the role of art in creating vibrant communities and spurring economic development. His visit comes just five weeks after mayor Jerry Sanders met with NEA officials to talk about San Diego ’s thriving arts community. One of the subjects discussed was how the NEA might partner with San Diego in helping the city celebrate its centennial in 2015. Landesman’s San Diego appearance will include a public forum with artists and arts advocates this weekend, as well as tours of locations that showcase San Diego as an innovative city where “Art Works”: Balboa Park, NTC Promenade, MCASD downtown and various visual and performing arts venues throughout San Diego. The forum with Landesman , which is open to the public, will take place on Saturday, March 13 at 2pm, La Jolla Playhouse.
… Theaterlovers, take note !: Harold Clurman (1901-1980) has been called “the elder statesman of the American theater.” He was a visionary director and theater critic (for The Nation and The New Republic), most famous for being one of the three original founders of the influential New York theater collective, the Group Theatre . Now he’s being brought back to life, so to speak, for one night only, in the solo show, “ Let it be Art! Harold Clurman’s Life of Passion ,” written and performed by Ronald Rand. The piece, recently seen Off Broadway, plays on Wednesday, April 14 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. www.northcoastrep.org
… Voices of Experience: The Playwrights Project, flush from its stellar productions of “Plays by Young Writers,” is visiting the other end of the age spectrum, with “ Recollections: Dramatizing key moments from the lives of older adults and seniors.” Professional actors will perform cold readings of dramatic vignettes written by adults in the Recollections playwriting series led by Playwrights Project Teaching Artist and Founder, Deborah Salzer. Monday, March 14, 3-4:30 p.m., at the 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Avenue , downtown. Admission is free, but reservations are required: (619) 239-8222; firstname.lastname@example.org
… A Star is Bor n : After two grueling rounds, the three finalists of Orchestra Nova’s The Next Star amateur talent competition performed with the orchestra for the final time last week. The judges, comprising internet voters and audience members at the three concerts even included the orchestra musicians. The results were extremely close, but the winner was soprano Maria Lozano, a graduate student at San Diego State University . Pianists Hei-ock Kim and Gorden Cheng put up a tough fight. Congrats to all.
… Art, Music, Story: Art of Élan, a local chamber music duo, is dedicated to “bringing back the excitement of classical music.” Their latest concert is called “ Storytelling ,” and it seeks to do just that, both with and without the use of words. Inspired by arts works at the San Diego Museum of Art, including John Corigliano’s “Sanpshot, circa 1909” and Bouguereau’s “The Young Shepherdess,” they’ll play the melodic “Folksongs” for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble, ingeniously arranged by Luciano Berio . Art of Élan founders and San Diego Symphony performers Kate Hatmaker (violinist) and Demarre McGill (principal flutist) promise to “take storytelling to a whole new level.” The concert will be held at the Museum of Art in Balboa Park , 7 p.m. on March 23. www.artofelan.org
… Gina’s Back!: Gina Angelique , founding artistic director of Eveoke Dance Theatre, will bring her creative genius to a two-hour Master Class on Sunday, March 28, 2-4 p.m. at Eveoke’s North Park Studio, 2811-A University Avenue. And speaking of Eveoke, they were one of only two organizations statewide chosen from San Diego to receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Eveoke was granted $20,000. Bravo… and welcome back, Gina; you’ve been missed since you got off the grid and moved north in 2007. The ever-industrious Angelique is currently developing a sustainable retreat for artists at her new home, dancefarm , in Shingletown , CA . A 320-acre rural property called La Fattoria , which will include several dance studios and retreat residences, will allow artists to develop new works in a natural environment. Further info is at www.lafattoria.us . For Eveoke info: eveoke.org
… Reprise: The City of Encinitas and Encinitas Theatre Consortium will present Moira Keefe ’s touching one-woman family tribute, “My Year of Living Anxiously,” a new work that examines the wild, neurotic world of Keefe, sandwiched between her parents and her hormonal teenagers. Friday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive . A wine reception will follow. Admission is free.
.. Back to the Bard: The San Diego Shakespeare Society’s “Speaking of Shakespeare” lecture series continues as part of the organization’s 10th anniversary with “Shakespeare’s Wit & Wisdom: Still keys for success four (or less) centuries later.” Presented by Tom Leech , author of “Say It Like Shakespeare: The Bard’s Timeless Tips for Successful Communication.” Saturday, March 27, 12:45-2:15 p.m. at the Mission Valley Library, 2123 Fenton Parkway . www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org
… A Look Back at the Best of ‘09: Watch the TV broadcast of the 13th Annual Patté Awards for Theater Excellence at www.thepattefoundation.org .
… Moxie Theatre is inaugurating its first New Play Festival, entitled “Fighting Words.” Staged readings of five plays by female writers with moxie will take place over the course of three weekends. The playwrights are Jennifer Barclay (“Red Helen”), Katie Henry (“Re-Drowning Ophelia,” recently premiered at Plays by Young Writers), Lojo Simon (“Adoration of Dora”), Zsa Zsa Gershick (“Coming Attractions”) and Jacqueline Goldfinger (“the terrible girls”). March 19-28. Tickets at (858) 598-7620; www.moxietheatre.com
… Carlsbad Playreaders presents a reading of an edgy, Irish play by Martin McDonagh , “The Lieutenant of Inishmore .” This 2006 Tony nominee for Best Play is a black comedy featuring a dead cat, a tortured drug dealer and a brutal shootout. McDonagh territory, for sure. Two-time Patté Award winner Lisa Berger directs an all-star cast including Ron Choularton , Mike Sears and Rachael van Wormer. Monday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m., at the Carlsbad City Library, 1775 Dove Lane . www.carlsbadplayreaders.org
… The New Jewish Plays Program, part of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla , is presenting a staged reading of a world premiere, “Jacob and Jack,” by acclaimed playwright James Sherman. Mr. Sherman directs a cast that includes Kathi Diamant , Byron LaDue , Gayle Feldman, Sarah Keating and Eric Poppick . A Q&A with the writer/director will follow the performance. Tickets are available www.sdcjc.org or (858) 362-1348.
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
v “Ring Round the Moon” – delightfully daft
Moonlight Stage Productions at the Avo Playhouse, through 3/21
v “self (the remix)” – intriguing solo hip hop autobiography
Mo’olelo at the 10th Avenue Theatre, through 3/21
v “The Tempest” – beautiful and enchanting
North Coast Repertory Theatre and Mira Costa College , through 3/14
v “Little Women” –engaging, amusing and touching new adaptation
North Coast Repertory Theatre, through 3/14
v “An Inspector Calls” – razor-sharp production of a mystery/thriller classic
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through 3/21
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic.
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer,’ and the name of the play of interest, in the SDNN Search box.